Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Hinduism

Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, a hero for Modern India

I came by Daniel Lak's book, India Express recently through a second hand shop. Browsing through it today I chanced across a passage that deserves wide dissemination, for the wonderful message it brings.

Dr. Pathak, whose work I've seen develop (as a general citizen – I don't know him personally) from its early days into an impressive reform movement today that is changing the mindset and expectations of Indians, proves even a single person can make a huge difference. All that is needed is a vision and unwavering determination.

In relation to toilets, there are clearly some attitudinal issues in India. For instance, the bosses don't clean toilets. The heads of household don't clean toilets. And so on. But let me assure you that even the Brahmin (whatever that means) head of household has to clean his own toilet abroad. There are no servants. You either clean up or suffer the consequences! I am almost certain that it is a routine phenomenon for Prime Minsters in the West to clean their own toilets. It is such a routine thing that no one even thinks it is worth writing about.

So what's the issue here? Why are we so foolish on such an important matter as personal hygiene?

On the other hand, in Japan, clean toilets are a sign of pride. I was reading somewhere that even CEOs of companies clean their toilets, to ensure outstanding hygiene standards. On a passing flight via Tokyo a few years ago I was super-impressed at the high quality of toilets at the airport. Surely that is the standard we must aspire for in India. Not the third rate culture of dirty toilets, and not cleaning one's own toilet. 

This is not just about clean toilets but about the horribly flawed, racist caste system. I believe that the problems in this area along with many others will be resolved through a radically different policy (such as those I advocate in BFN). To the extent social practices are embedded in the Indian psyche and won't be resolved through education, these may need to be changed through social reformers (not government). It won't be enough, to eliminate the obnoxious racist caste system, to build Sulabh sauchalayas. Pathak will have to make all the 'Dalits' into 'Brahmins' in a public ceremony. Or, as I recommend – the  'Dalits' should abandon Hinduism lock, stock, and barrel, and take on – well, nothing! Just become human, please. There is no need for spiritual crutches. We can all reach God ourselves with our own effort (assuming 'He' exists). No middleman is needed, no priest, no pujari.

Anyway, the caste issue is a more complex matter. Now read on about Dr Pathak. 


Driving away from New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, I noticed a gray, single-story building. It sat in a landscaped gar­den of shrubs and trimmed grass. Groomed gravel paths led through the grounds to two doors at either end of the building, with the uni­versally recognized pictorial symbols for men and women mounted on the doors. There was not a stray bit of litter in sight. The whole thing gleamed. A blue sign with white painted letters on top of the building proclaimed “Sulabh International Public Toilet” in both Eng­lish and Hindi. I stopped my car to investigate the place. There were, I discovered, toilets, as the sign said, and they were spotless. I also found bathing facilities for both men and women, and attendants to look after them. Those who could afford to pay were charged a nom­inal fee, equivalent to a few cents; for those who couldn't, access was free. A young man showed me around. He took pains to take me into the open tracts of land nearby, pointing at the ground to show me that no one had been going to the toilet there. “No shit, no shit,” he kept saying, and I agreed.

In Sanskrit, sulabh is the word for “easy.” The name of the organization, and the thinking behind it, are the work of its founder, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak. Pathak is an upright, handsome man in his sixties who looks far younger. Persuading all Indians to make proper use of toilets, he believes, will resolve many of the country's health and social challenges. It's that easy, he repeats, many times during our conversation. His goal is nothing less than safe, hygienic sanitation for all of India's billion-plus population and liberation for the remaining 250,000 sweepers.
“A toilet in every home, and ample public toilets for travelers and the homeless, would make everything easier,” he said. We were sitting in an office decorated with photos of him with popes, the Dalai Lama, UN agency chiefs, European and Asian leaders and a succession of Indian cabinet ministers. “This would, of course, end waterborne dis­ease. Dysentery and diarrhea cannot exist without human waste to spread them, and if [the waste is] put in a toilet and a sewer, not on the ground or in public, then where's the disease? Do you have any dysentery in America? In Europe? Of course you don't.
“We would eliminate the need for scavengers, the people who still collect the waste in this country in defiance of our laws. There are hundreds of thousands of them still, pulling wooden carts and pick­ing up our waste. This is barbaric, the worst work imaginable, and people who do it are beyond untouchability. No one wants to know them. They are doomed and their children are doomed to illiteracy, alienation, outcast status.”
Pathak prefers the word scavenger to sweeper. He's fond of point­ing out that India's great successes, its self-sufficiency in food, its nu­clear weapons, its space program and information technology companies, all exist alongside a quarter million men, women and chil­dren who work as collectors of human waste. It was their plight, he says, that drew him into the promotion of public toilets and sanita­tion—not some obsession with cleanliness, but concern for a group of people who are perhaps the worst-off in the country. He is a Brah­min, born in the caste-ridden eastern state of Bihar, and he shocked his rather orthodox family when he chose to do research that plumbed the most disgusting depths of the caste system. He lived with sweepers. He went out with them on their rounds and helped them in their odiferous work. He got to know all too intimately the chal­lenges and daily humiliations that come their way. His PhD thesis, now published as a report by Sulabh, is a scathing indictment of an Indian society that could have afforded another system of waste dis­posal but chose to continue with sweepers and scavengers, with all its foul effects. “We [Hindus] have this idea that if we throw our garbage over the wall of our compound, it no longer exists. Similarly, if we move our bowels and the product is taken away by a scavenger, we have done nothing wrong. We have done, in effect, nothing at all. This is in gross defiance of the texts and scriptures of our faith,” he says. Pathak is a devout Hindu, and he takes great umbrage at those within the creed who defend caste-based practices such as scavenging. “It's wrong, it's false, it's blasphemous to say there is any religious justifi­cation for this sort of behavior.” In fact, he says, Hindu scripture specifically prohibits the handling of human waste by other humans.
Pathak also believes that human feces are wasted in India. They could be used as fertilizer or in the generation of electricity or the production of fuel for cooking. The challenge, he says, is to overcome the natural aversion people have to excreta. There are dozens of projects in India and around South Asia to turn human waste into cooking gas. Sulabh backs several of them. Waste is deposited into a sealed concrete container with a valve on top. As the waste mater degrades, it produces methane gas that can be pressurized and burnt as fuel. Although it burns cleanly and without odor, biogas, as it's known, is a hard sell in many communities. People remain dubious, not convinced that it won't contaminate food or their homes.
Sulabh encourages people to build toilets appropriate to their surroundings and using available materials. In arid climates, where water is at a premium, this might be a drop toilet, where the feces are allowed to dry on a platform well below the seat, to minimize odor. Where the climate is damper, the organization encourages people to dig septic fields and make use of plants to help process and purify waste water. Britain's Prince Charles has a natural sewage-procesing pond on his estate in Dorset that uses common bulrushes to cleanse waste water. The prince is one of many well-known supporters of Suthlabh's work. Some environments are more suitable for pit toilets. Others need running water and a connection to sewer pipes. Those who are willing can connect their toilets to a biogas generator. There are few kinds of loo that Sulabh doesn't design and build.
The organization also has a toilet museum, which includes a working model of the first flush mechanism, designed by the English engineer Thomas Crapper in the nineteenth century. But what’s most impressive about Pathak is how, like Veer Badra Mishra, he remains a devout Hindu while acknowledging that his faith enables horrible forms of discrimination and unacceptable behavior. It is true that there is no scriptural justification for scavenging, but because it is a social practice that dates from ancient times, there is a belief in India that Hindu tradition condones it. Pathak rejects this. He urges fellow Brahmins and other members of higher castes to adopt scavenger families and oversee their education and development. He puts the touchables and untouchables in touch, if you will, and stresses how this is true Hindu practice. Some fifty thousand scavengers, he says proudly, are no longer collecting human waste, thanks to his efforts. They work in offices, factories and at Sulabh itself, spreading the word about toilets. Their children attend an English medium school to learn about Shakespeare and sewing machines and, once they graduate, they need never take on the task undertaken by their parents and grandparents.
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Conflict of religions: The Hindu attitude

I had uploaded this outstanding lecture by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan on the internet a few years ago (Word version) to emphasise that tolerance is embedded deep within Hinduism, something that is not always obvious from the writings of at least a few well-known Hindu leaders. I believe, though, that this lecture provides genuine insights into India's fundamental character – of tolerance.

Thus, for instance, I may not be a Hindu today but one of the key reasons I became a "natural" liberal is because of this fundamental Indian character which does not elevate any religion beyond one's personal quest for the truth which is seen to be a lifelong endeavour for each one to pursue at his own pace.

Right from childhood, though my perspectives wavered between belief, atheism and agnosticism – I was never forced into any direction by anyone. This total freedom of thought is absolutely crucial. India will live so long as this TOTAL freedom of religious exploration remains alive. It will die when that freedom is lost.

Let me add that Radhakrishnan's interpretation of Hinduism is entirely consistent with classical liberalism. And so I sometimes wonder how the idea of Vedic socialism has come about. How did Marxist ideas enter the Indian scene? Why does the Indian mind offer religious freedom but (allegedly) refuse to offer economic freedom? Clearly there is something fishy going on.

I'm more inclined to believe that Hinduism is quintessentially compatible with capitalism and that socialism was a Western world-view imposed on India through Nehru – and that socialism is sure to be rejected when Indians ask why a people free to practice their religious beliefs should not be free to practice their vocation, or why a government should become a businessman and operate public sector undertakings.



Students of mysticism are impressed by the universality of the mystic experience, though the differences in the formulations of it are by no means unimportant.The mystics of the world, whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim, belong to the same brotherhood and have striking family likeness.Evelyn Underhill writes: “Though mystical theologies of the East and the West differ widely — though the ideal of life which they hold out to the soul differ too — yet in the experience of the saint this conflict is seen to be transcended.When the love of God is reached, divergencies become impossible, for the soul has passed beyond the sphere of the manifold and is immersed in the one Reality. ”[1] Judged by the characteristic religious experience, St.John and St: Paul have not any material advantage over Plotinus and Samkara.“One cannot honestly say,” observes Miss Underhill, “that there is any wide difference between the Brahmin, the Sufi or the Christian mystics at their best.”[2] A hostile critic of mysticism, Hermann, the German theologian, endorses this view from his own standpoint.Regarding Christian mystics he remarks, “Whenever the religious feeling in them soars to its highest flights, then they are torn loose from Christ, and float away in precisely the same realm with then non-Christian mystics of all ages. ”[3] Again, “Augustine wrote a work of fifteen books on the Trinity, yet when he stood with his mother at the window of the house at Ostia and sought to express the profound sense he felt of being in the grasp of God, he spoke not of the Trinity, but of the one God in whose presence the soul is lifted above itself and above all words and signs.”[4]
It matters not whether the seer who has the insight has dreamed his way to they truth in the shadow of the temple or the tabernacle, the church or the mosque.Those who have see the radiant vision of the Divine protest against the exaggerated importance attached to outward forms.They speak a language which unites all worshippers as surely as the dogmas of the doctors divide.The true seer is gifted with a universality of outlook, and a certain sensitiveness to the impulses and emotions which dominate the rich and varied humans nature He whose consciousness is anchored in God cannot deny any expression of life as utterly erroneous.He is convinced of the inexhaustibility of the nature of God and the infinite number of its possible manifestations.
The intellectual representations of the religious mystery are relative and symbolic.As Plato would say, our accounts of God are likely stories but all the same legendary.Not one of them is full and final.We are like little children on the seashore trying to fill our shells with water from the sea.While we cannot exhaust the waters of the deep by means of our shells, every drop that we attempt to gather into our tiny shells is a part of the authentic waters.Our intellectual representations differ simply because they bring out different facets of the one central reality.From the Rsis of the Upanisads down to Tagore and Gandhi, the Hindu has acknowledged that, truth wears vestures of many colours and speaks in strange tongues.The mystics of other denominations have also testified to this.Boehme says: “Consider the birds in our forests, they praise God each in his own way, in diverse tones and fashions.Think you God is vexed by this diversity and desires to silence discordant voices? All the forms of being are dear to the infinite Being Himself. ” Look at this Sufi utterance in the translation of Professor Browne of Cambridge:
Beaker or flagon, or bowl or jar,
Clumsy or slender, coarse or fine;
However the potter may make or mar,
All were made to contain the wine:
Should we this one seek or that one shun
When the wine which gives them their worth is one?
Bearing in mind this great truth, Hinduism developed an attitude of comprehensive charity instead of a fanatic faith in an inflexible creed. It accepted the multiplicity of aboriginal gods and others which originated, most of them outside the Aryan tradition, and justified them all. It brought together into one whole all believers in God. Many sects professing many different beliefs live within the Hindu fold. Heresy-hunting, the favourite game of many religions, is singularly absent from Hinduism.
Hinduism is wholly free from the strange obsession of the Semitic faiths that the acceptance of a particular religious metaphysic is necessary for salvation, and non-acceptance thereof is a heinous sin meriting eternal punishment in hell. Here and there outbursts of sectarian fanaticism are found recorded in the literature of the Hindus, which indicate the first effects of the conflicts of the different groups brought together into the one fold; but the main note of Hinduism is one of respect and good will for other creeds.When a worshipper of Visnu had a feeling in his heart against a worshipper of Siva and he bowed before the image of Visnu, the face of the image divided itself in half and Siva appeared on one side and Vinu on the other, and the two smiling as one face on the bigoted worshipper told dim that Visnu and Siva were one.The story is significant.
In a sense, Hinduism may be regarded as the first example in the world of a missionary religion.Only its missionary spirit is different from that associated with the proselytising creeds.It did not regard it as its mission to convert humanity to any one opinion. For what counts is conduct and not belief.Worshippers of different gods and followers of different rites were taken into the Hindu fold.Krsna, according to the Bhagavadgita, accepts as his own, not only the oppressed classes, women and Sudras, but even those of unclean descent (papayonayah), like the Kiratas and the Hunas.[5] The ancient practice of Vratyastoma, described fully in the Tandya Brahmana, shows that not only individuals but whole tribes were absorbed into Hinduism.[6]
When in the hour of their triumph the Aryans made up with their dangerous though vanquished rivals, they did not sneer at their relatively crude cults.The native inhabitants of North India clothed the naked forces of nature with the gorgeous drapery of a mythic fancy, and fashioned a train of gods and goddesses, of spirits and elves out of the shifting panorama of nature, and the Vedic Aryans accepted them all and set them side by side with the heavenly host to which they themselves looked with awe and admiration.It was enough for them that those crude objects were regarded by their adherents as sources of the supreme blessings of life and centres of power which can be drawn upon.The gods of the Rg Veda and the ghosts of the Atharva Veda melted and coalesced under the powerful solvent of philosophy into the one supreme reality which, according to the qualities, with which our imagination invests it, goes by this name or that.
The Epics relate the acceptance of new tribes and their gods into the old family circle. The clash of cults and the contact of cultures do not, as a rule, result in a complete domination of the one by the other. In all true contact there is an interchange of elements, though the foreign elements are given a new significance by those who accept them. The emotional attitudes attached to the old forms are transferred to the new which is fitted into the background of the old. Many tribes and races had mystic animals, and when the tribes entered the Hindu society the animals which followed them were made vehicles and companions of gods. One of them is mounted on the peacock, another on the swan, a third is carried by the bull, and a fourth by the goat.The enlistment of Hanuman in the service of Rams signifies the meeting-point of early nature worship and later theism, The dancing of Krsna on Kaliya’s head represents the subordination, if not the displacement, of serpent worship. Rama’s breaking of the bow of Siva signifies the conflict between the Vedic ideal and the cult of Siva, who soon became the god of the south (Daksinamurti).There are other stories in the Epic literature indicating the reconciliation of the Vedic and the non-Vedic faiths.The heroised ancestors,the local saints, the planetary influences and the tribal gods were admitted into the Hindu pantheon; though they were all subordinated to the one supreme reality of which they were regarded as aspects.The polytheism was organised in a monistic way. Only it was not a rigid monotheism enjoining on its adherents the most complete intolerance for those holding a different view.
It need not be thought that the Aryan was always the superior force.There are occasions when the Aryan yielded to the non-Aryan, and rightly too.The Epics relate the manner in which the different non-Aryan gods asserted their supremacy over the Aryan ones: Krsnas struggle with Indra, the prince of the Vedic gods, is one instance.The rise of the cult of Siva is another.When Daksa, the protagonist of the sacrificial cult, conceives a violent feud against Siva, there is disaffectionin his own home, for his daughter Sati who has become the embodiment of womanly piety and devotion developed an ardent love for Siva.
The Vedic culture which resembles that of the Homeric Greeks or the Celtic Irish at the beginning of the Christian era, or that of the pre-Christian Teutons and Slavs, becomes transformed in the Epics into the Hindu culture through the influence of the Dravidians.The Aryan idea of worship during the earliest period was to call on the Father Sky or some other shining one to look from on high on the sacrificer, and receive from him the offerings of fat or flesh, cakes and drink.But soon puja or worship takes the place of homa or sacrifice.Image worship which was a striking feature of the Dravidian faith was accepted by the Aryans.The ideals of vegetarianism and non-violence (ahimsa) also developed. The Vedic tradition was dominated by the Agamik, and today Hindu culture shows the influence of the Agamas as much as that of the Vedas.The Aryan and the Dravidian do not exist side by side in Hinduism, but are worked up into a distinctive cultural pattern which is more an emergent than a resultant.The history of the Hindu religious development shows occasionally the friction between the two strains of the Vedas and the Agamas though they are sufficiently harmonised.When conceived in a large historical spirit, Hinduism becomes a slow growth across the centuries incorporating all the good and true things as well as much that is evil and erroneous, though a constant endeavour, which is not always successful, is kept up to throw out the unsatisfactory elements.Hinduism has the large comprehensive unity of a living organism with a fixed orientation.The Upanisad asks us to remember the Real who is one, who is indistinguishable through class or colour, and who by his varied forces provides as is necessary for the needs of each class and of all.
When once the cults are taken into Hinduism, alteration sets in as the result of the influence of the higher thought.The Hindu method of religious reform is essentially democratic.It allows each group to get to the truth through its own tradition by means of discipline of mind and morals. Each group has its own historic tradition, and assimilation of it is the condition of its growth of spirit. Even the savage clings to his superstitions obstinately and faithfully. For him his views are live forces, though they may seem to us no more than childish fancies.To shatter the superstitions of the savage is to destroy his morality, his social code and mental peace. Religious rites and social institutions, what ever they may be, issue out of experiences that may be hundreds of years old.As the Hindu inquirer cast his eyes over the manifold variety of the faiths which prevailed in his world, he saw that they were all conditioned by the social structure in which their followers lived.History has made them what they are, and they cannot be made different all on a sudden.Besides, God’s gracious purpose includes the whole of the human race.Every community has inalienable rights which others should respect.No type can come into existence in which God doesnot live. Robert Burnstruly says: “And yet the light that ledastray was light from heaven.” To despise other people’s gods is to despise them, for they and their gods are adapted to each other.The Hindu took up the gods of even the savage and the uncivilised and set them on equal thrones to his own.
The right way to refine the crude beliefs of any group is to alter the bias of mind.For the view of God an individual stresses depends on the kind of man he is.The temperament and the training of the individual as well as the influence of the environment determine toa large extent the character ofone’s religious opinions. Any defect in one’s nature or onesidedness in ones experience is inevitably reflected in the view the individual adopts with regard to the religious reality. One’s knowledge of God is limited byone’scapacity to understand him.The aim of the reformer, should be to cure the defect and not criticise the view. When the spiritual life is quickened the belief is altered automatically.Any change of view to be real must grow from within outwards.Opinions cannot grow unless traditions are altered. The task of the religious teacher is not so much to impose an opinion as to kindle an aspiration.If we open the eyes, the truth will be seen.The Hindu methods not force and threats, but suggestion and persuasion. Error is only a sign of immaturity.It is not a grievous sin. Given time and patience it will be shaken off.However severe Hinduism may be with the strong in spirit, it is indulgent to frailties of the weak.
The Hindu method of religious reform helps to bring about a change not in the name but in the content. While we are allowed to retain the same name, we are encouraged to deepen its significance.To take an illustration familiar to you, the Yahweh of the Pentateuch is a fearsome spirit, again and again flaming up in jealous wrath and commanding the slaughter of man, woman, child and beast, whenever his wrath is roused.The conception of the Holy One who loves mercy rather than sacrifice, who abominates burnt offerings, who reveals himself to those who yearn to know him asserts itself in the writings of Isaiah and Hosea. In the revelation of Jesus we have the conception of God as perfect love.The name “Yahweh” is the common link which connects these different developments.When a new cult is accepted by Hinduism, the name is retained though a refinement of the content is effected.To take an example from early Sanskrit literature, it is clear that Kali in her various shapes is a non-Aryan goddess.[7] But she was gradually identified with the supreme Godhead Witness the following address to Kali:
“Thou, O Goddess, O auspicious Remover of the distresses of those who tum to thee for refuge, art not to be known by speech, mind and intellect.None indeed is able to praise thee by words.
“O Goddess, having Brahman as thy personal form, O Mother of the universe, we repeatedly salute thee, full of compassion.
“The work of creation, maintenance and absorption is a mere wave of thy sportive pleasure.Thou art able to create the whole in a moment.Salutation to thee, O all-powerful Goddess! Although devoid of attributes and form, although standing outside of objective existence, although beyond the range of the senses, although one and whole and without a second and all-pervading, yet assuming a form possessed of attributes for the well-being of devotees, thou givest them the highest good.We salute thee, O Goddess, in whom all the three conditions of existence become manifest.”[8]
Similarly Krsna becomes the highest Godhead in the Bhagavadgita whatever his past origin may be.
When the pupil approaches his religious teacher for guidance, the teacher asks the pupil about his favourite God, istadevata, for every man has a right to choose that form of belief and worship which most appeals to him.The teacher tells the pupil that his idea is a concrete representation of what is abstract, and leads him gradually to an appreciation of the Absolute intended by it.Suppose a Christianapproaches a Hindu teacher for spiritual guidance, he would not ask his Christian pupil to discard his allegiance to Christ but would tell him that his idea of Christ was not adequate and would lead him to a knowledge of the real Christ, the incorporate Supreme.Every God accepted by Hinduism is elevated and ultimately identified with the central Reality which is one with the deeper self of man.The addition of new gods to the Hindu pantheon does not endanger it.The critic who observes that Hinduism is “magic tempered by metaphysics: or “animism transformed by philosophy” is right.There is a distinction between magic tempered by metaphysics and pure magic. Hinduism absorbs everything that enters into it, magic or animism, and raises it to a higher level.
Differences in name become immaterial for the Hindu, since every name, at its best, connotes the same metaphysical and moral perfections. The identity of content signified by the different names is conveyed to the people at large by an identification of the names.Brahma, Visnu, Siva, Krsna, Kali, Buddha and other historical names are used indiscriminately for the Absolute Reality.“May Hari, the ruler of the three worlds worshipped by the Saivites as Siva, by the Vedantins as Brahman, by the Buddhists as Buddha, by the Naiyayikas as the chief agent, by the Jainas as the liberated, by the ritualists as the principle of law, may he grant our prayers.”[9] Samkara, the great philosopher, refers to the one Reality, who, owing to the diversity of intellects (Inatibheda) is conventionally spoken of (parikalpya) in various ways as Brahma, Visnu and Mahesvara.[10]  A south Indian folksong says:
Into the bosom of the one great sea
Flaw streams that come from hills on every side,
Their names are various as their springs,
And thus in every land do men bow down
To one great God, though known by many names.[11]
The Hindu method of reform enables every group to retain its past associations and preserve its individuality and interest: For as students are proud of their colleges, so are groups of their gods.We need not move students from one college to another, but should do our best to raise the tone of each college, improve its standards and refine, its ideals, with the result that each college enables us, to attain the same goal.It is a matter of indifference what college we are in, so long as all of them are steeped in the same atmosphere and train us to reach the same ideal.Of course there will be fanatics with narrow patriotism holding up Balliol as the best or Magdalene as modern, but to the impartial spectator the different colleges do not seem to be horizontal levels one higher than the other, but only vertical pathways leading to the same summit.We can be in any college and yet be on the lowest rung of the ladder or be high up in the scale. Where we are does not depend on the college but on ourselves.There are good Christians and bad Christians even as there are good Hindus and bad Hindus.
The Hindu method of reform has been criticised both from the theoretical and the practical points of view.Professor Clement Webb writes: With its traditions of.periodically repeated incarnations of the deity in the most diverse forms, its ready acceptance of any and every local divinity or founder of a sect or ascetic devotee as a manifestation of God, its tolerance of symbols and legends of all kinds, however repulsive or obscene by the side of the most exalted flights of world-renouncing mysticism, it could perhaps more easily than any other faith develop, without loss of continuity with its past, into a universal religion which would see in every creed a form suited to some particular group or individual, of the universal aspiration after one Eternal Reality, to whose true being the infinitely various shapes in which it reveals itself to, or conceals itself from men are all alike indifferent.”[12] While this statement represents the general tendency of the Hindu faith, it is not altogether fair to it when it suggests that for Hinduism there is nothing to choose between one revelation and another.Hinduism does not mistake tolerance for indifference.It affirms that while all revelations refer to reality, they are not equally true to it.Towards the close of the last lecture I noticed this point, and it is needless to elaborate it here. Hinduism requires every man to think steadily on the life’s mystery until he reaches the highest revelation. While the lesser forms are tolerated in the interests of those who cannot suddenly transcend them, there is all through an insistence on the larger idea and the purer worship. Hinduism does not believe in forcing up the pace of development.When we give our higher experiences to those who cannot understand them we are in the position of those who can see and who impart the visual impressions to those born blind. Unless we open their spiritual eyes, they cannot see what the seers relate. So while Hinduism does not interfere with one’s natural way of thinking, which depends on his moral and intellectual gifts,education and environment, it furthers his spiritual growth by lending a sympathetic andhelping hand wherever he stands.While Hinduism hates the compulsory conscription of men into the house of truth, it insists on the development of one’s intellectual conscience and sensibility to truth.Besides error of judgment is not moral obliquity.Weakness of understanding is not depravity of heart.If a full and perfect understanding of the divine nature is necessary for salvation, how many of us can escape the jaws of hell? Saktigita says: “There is no limit, O Mother, to thy kindly grace in the case of devotees who are not able to realise thy form consisting of ideal essences, through the defects in the knowledge of principles.” We may not know God, but God certainly knows us.
Hinduism has enough faith in the power of spirit to break the bonds that fetter the growth of the soul.God, the central reality affirmed by all religions, is the continual evolver of the faithsin which men find themselves.Besides, experience proves that attempts at a very rapid progress from one set of tares to a higher one does not lead to advance but abrogation.The mills of the gods grind slowly in the making of history, and zealous reformers meet with defeat if they attempt to save the world in their own generation by forcing on it their favourite programmes.Human nature cannot be hurried. Again, Hinduism does not believe in bringing about a mechanical uniformity of belief and worship by a forcible elimination of all that is not in agreement with a particular creed.It does not believe in any statutory methods of salvation.Its scheme of salvation is not limited to those who hold a particular view of Gods nature and worship.Such an exclusive absolutism is inconsistent with an all-loving universal God. It is not fair to God or man to assume that one people are the chosen of God, their religion occupies a central place in the religious development of mankind, and that all others should borrow from them or suffer spiritual destitution.
After all, what counts is not creed but conduct.By their fruits shall ye know them and notby their beliefs. Religion is not correct belief but righteous living.[13] The truly religious never worry about other people’s beliefs. Look at the great saying of Jesus: “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold.” Jesus was born a Jew and died a Jew. He did not tell the Jewish people among whom he found himself, “It is wicked to be Jews.Become Christians.” He did his best to rid the Jewish religion of its impurities. He would have done the same with Hinduism were he born a Hindu.The true reformer purifies and enlarges the heritage of mankind and does not belittle, still less deny it:
Those who love their sects more than truth end by loving themselves more than their sects. We start by claiming that Christianity is the only true religion and then affirm that Protestantism is the only true sect of Christianity, Episcopalianism the only true Protestantism, the High Church the only true Episcopal Protestant Christian religion, and our particular standpoint the only true representation of the High Church view.
The Hindu theory that every human being, every group and every nation has an individuality worth reverence is slowly gaining ground. Such a view requires that we should allow absolute freedom to every group to cultivate what is most distinctive and characteristic of it.All peculiarity is unique and incommunicable, and it will be to disregard the nature of reality to assume that what is useful to one will be useful to everyone else to the same extent.The world is wide enough to hold men whose natures are different.
It is argued sometimes that the Hindu plan has not helped its adherents to a freer and larger life.It isdifficult to meet such an indefinite charge.Anyway, it is a matter of grave doubt whether Hinduism would have achieved a more effective regeneration if it had displaced by force the old ideas, i.e. if it had adopted the method of conversion and proselytism instead of reform resulting from gradual development. It is quite true that Hinduism did not cut away with an unsparing hand the rank tropical growth of magic and obscurantism.Its method is rather that of sapping the foundations than cutting the growths.
While in the great days of Hinduism there was a great improvement in the general religious life of the Hindus by the exercise of the two principles of respect for man and unbending devotion to truth, there has been a “failure of nerve” in the Hindu spiritin recent times.There are within Hinduism large numbers who are the victims of superstition, but even in countries where the higher civilisation is said to have displaced, the lower, the lower still persists. To meet a savage we need not go very far. A great authority in these matters, Sir James Frazer, says: “Among the ignorant and superstitious classes of modern Europe, it is very much what it was thousands of years ago in Egypt and India, and what it now is among the lowest savages surviving in the remotest corners of the world. Now and then the polite world is startled by a paragraph in a newspaper which tells how in Scotland an image has been found stuck full of pins for the purpose of killing an obnoxious laird or minister, how a woman has been slowly roasted to death as a witch in Ireland, or how a girl has been murdered and chopped up in Russia to make those candles of human tallow by whose light thieves hope to pursue their midnight trade unseen.”[14] Many Christians believe in spells and magic.Habits of human groupsare hard to eradicate in proportion to the length of time during which they have existed.Rapid changes are impossible, and even slow changes are exceedingly difficult, for religions tend strongly to revert to type.When primitive tribes whose cults provided them with feminine as well as masculine objects of devotion entered the Buddhist fold they insisted on having in addition to the masculine Buddhathe feminine Tara.When the Graeco-Romans worshipping Ashtoreth, Isis and Aphrodite entered the Christian Church, Mariolatry developed.It is relatedof an Indian Christian convert who attended the church on Sunday and the Kali temple on Friday, that when the missionary gentleman asked him whether he was not a Christian, he replied, “Yes, I am, but does it mean that I have changed my religion?” Hindu converts to other faiths frequently turn to Hindu gods in cases of trouble and sickness, presence or dread of death. Outer professions have no roots in inner life. We cannot alter suddenly our subconscious heritage at the bidding of the reformer.The old ideas cannot be rooted out unless we are educated to a higher intellectual and moral level.
The Hindu method has not been altogether a failure.There has been progress all round, though there is still room for considerable improvement.In spite of the fact that Hinduism has no common creed and its worship no fixed form, it has bound together multitudinous sects and devotions into a common scheme. In the Census Report for 1911 Mr.Burns observes: “The general results of my inquiries is that the great majority of Hindus have a firm belief in one supreme God, Bhagavan, Paramesvara,  Isvara, or Narayana.”[15] Regarding the spread of Hindu ideas and ideals, Sir Herbert Risley says: “These ideas are not the monopoly of thelearned, they are shared in great measure by the man in the street. If you tack to a fairly intelligent Hindu peasant about the Paramatma, Karma, Maya, Mukti, and so forth, you will find as soon as he has got. over his surprise at your interest in such matters that the terms are familiar to him, and that he has formed a rough working theory of their bearing of his own future.”[16] There is an inner cohesion among the Hindus from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin.
The work of assimilating the rawest recruits of the hill-tribes and other half-civilised hordes has been a slow one and by no means thorough.Among Hindus are counted many professing-crude beliefs and submerged thoughts which the civilisation has not had time to eradicate.During the last few centuries Hinduism has not been faithful to its ideals, and the task of the uplift of the uncivilised has been sadly neglected.
Hinduism does not support the sophism that is often alleged that to coerce man to have the right view is as legitimate as to save one by violence from committing, suicide in a fit of delirium. The intolerance of narrow monotheism is written in letters of blood across the history of man from the time when first the tribes of Israel burst into the land of Cancaan.The worshippers of the one jealous God are egged on to aggressive wars against people of alien cults.They invoke divine sanction for the cruelties inflicted on the conquered.The spirit of old Israel is inherited by Christianity and Islam, and it is for you to say whether it would not have been better for the Western civilisation if Greece had moulded it on this question rather than Palestine.Wars of religion which are the outcome of fanaticism that prompts and justifies the extermination of aliens of different creeds were practically unknown in Hindu India.Of course, here and there there were outbursts of fanaticism, but Hinduism as a rule never encouraged persecution for unbelief.Its record has been a clean one, relatively speaking.It has been able to hold together in peace many and varied communities of men. Buddhism, which counts-among its followers nearly a fifth of the human race, has always respected other faiths and never tried to supplant them by force.One of the earliest Buddhist books relates that Buddha. condemned the tendency prevalent among the religious disputants of his day, to make a display of their own doctrines and damn those of others.[17]Buddha asks his follows to avoid all discussions which are likely to stir up discontent among the different sects.Religious toleration is the theme of one of Asoka’s rock edicts, “The King, beloved of the Gods, honours every form of religious faith, but considers no gift or honour so much as the increase of the substance of religion; whereof this is the root, to reverence one’s own faith and never to revile that of others.Whoever acts differently injures his own religion whi1e he wrongs another’s.” “The texts of all forms of religion shall be followed under my protection.[18]  The Hindu and the Buddhist rulers of India acted up to this principle with the result that the persecuted and the refugees of all great religions found shelter in India.The Jews, the Christians, the Parsees were allowed absolute freedom, to develop on their own lines. Yuan Chwang reports that at the great festival of Prayaga, King Harsa dedicated on the first day a statue to the Buddha, another to the sun, the favourite deity of his father, on the second, and to Siva on the third.The famous Kottayam plates of Sthanuravi (ninth century A. D.) and the Cochin plates of Vijayaragadeva bear eloquent testimony to the fact that the Hindu kings not only tolerated Christianity but granted special concessions to the professors of that faith.Only the other day the Hindu prince of Mysore made a gift to the re-building of the Christian church in his State.
Today the world has become a much smaller place, thanks to the adventures and miracles of science. Foreign nations have become our next-door neighbours. Mingling of populations is bringing about an interchange of thought. We are slowly realising that the world is a single co-operative group.Other religions have become forces with which we have to reckon, and we are seeking for ways and means by which we can live together in peaceand harmony. We cannot have religious unity and peace so long as we assert that we are in possession of the light and all others are groping in the darkness. That very assertion is a challenge to a fight.The political ideal of the world is not so much a single empire with a homogeneous civilisation and a single communal will, but a brotherhood of free nations differing profoundly in life and mind, habits and institutions, existing side by side in peace and order, harmony and co-operation, and each contributing to the world its own unique and specific best, which is irreducible to the terms of the others.The cosmopolitanism of the eighteenth century and the nationalism of the nineteenth are combined in our ideal of a world-commonwealth, which allows every branch of the human family to find freedom, security and self-realisation in the larger life of mankind. I see no hope for the religious future of the world, if this ideal is not extended to the religious sphere also.When two or three different systems claim that they contain the revelation of the very core and centre of truth and the acceptance of it is the exclusive pathway to heaven, conflicts are inevitable. In such conflicts one religion will not allow others to steal a march over it, and no one can gain ascendancy until the world is reduced to dust and ashes. To obliterateevery other religion than one’s own, is a sort of bolshevism in religion which we must try to prevent.We can do so only if we accept something like the Hindu solution, which seeks the unity of religion not in a common creed but in a common quest.Let us believe in a unity of spirit and not of organisation, a unity which secures ample liberty not only for every individual but for every type of organised life which has proved itself effective.For almost all historical forms of life and thought can claim the sanction of experience and so the authority of God. The world would be a much poorer thing if one creed absorbed the rest.God wills arich harmony and not a colourless uniformity.The comprehensive and synthetic spirit of Hinduism has made it a mighty forest with a thousand waving arms each fulfilling its function and all directed by the spirit of God.Each thing in its place and all associated in the divine concert making with their various voices and even dissonances, as Heraclitus would say, the most exquisite harmony should be our ideal.
That the Hindu solution of the problem of the conflict of religions is likely to be accepted in the future seems to me to be fairly certain.The spirit of democracy with its immense faith in the freedom to choose one’s ends and direct one’s course in the effort to realise them makes for it.Nothing is good which is not self-chosen; no determination is valuable which is not self-determination.The different religions are slowly learning to hold out hands of friendship to each other in every part of the world.My presence here this evening is an indication of it.The parliaments of religions and conferences and congresses of liberal thinkers of all creeds promote mutual understanding and harmony.The study of comparative religion is developing a fairer attitude to other religions.It is impressing on us the fundamental unity of all religions by pointing out that the genius of the people, the spirit of the age and the need of the hour determine the emphasis in each religion.We are learning to think clearly about the inter-relations of religion.We tend to look upon different religions not as incompatibles but as complementaries, and so indispensable to each other for the realisation of the common end. Closer contact with other religions has dispelled the belief that only this or that religion has produced men of courage and patience, self-denying love and creative energy. Every great religion has cured its followers of the swell of passion, the thrust of desire and the blindness of temper.The crudest religion seems to have its place in the cosmic scheme, for gorgeous flowers justify the muddy roots from which they spring. Growing insistence on mysticism is tending to a subordination of dogma.[19] While intellectualism would separate the dissimilar and shut them up in different compartments, higher intuition takes account of the natural differences of things and seeks to combine them in the ample unity of the whole.The half-religious and the irreligious fight about dogmas and not the truly religious. In the biting words of Swift, “We have enough religion to hate one another but not enough to love one another.” The more religious we grow the more tolerant of diversity shall we become.

[1] Introduction to the Autobiography of Devendranath Tagore, p. xl

[2] Essentials of Mysticism (1920), p. 4.

[3] The Communion of the Christian with God.

[4] Ibid., p, 29.

[5] kiratahunandhrapulindapukkasah abhirakanka yavanah khasadayah
yenye ca papa yad upasrayasrayac chudyanti tasmai prabhavisnave namah.

[6] See Pancavimsa Brahmana, xvii. 1-4; Baudhayana, xvii. 24-6; Katyayana, xxii. 4; Latyayana, viii. 6. Many modern sects, beginning with Caitanya, the Radhasvamis, the Kabirpanthis, the Sikhs, the Brahmo samajists and the Arya samajists, accept outsiders. Devala’s smrti lays down rules for the simple purification of people forcibly converted to other faiths, or of womenfolk defiled and confined for years, and even of people who, for worldly advantage, embrace other faiths.

[7] In the Mahabharata (iv, vii) we find that she delights in wine, flesh and animal sacrifices. Gaudavaho (A.D.700) refers to animal and human sacrifices offered to Kali.Ksudrakamalakara (fifteenth century A.D.), speaking of the image of Durga at Vindhyachala near Mirzapur, says that Kali is the goddess of the Kiratas and other aboriginal tribes and is worshipped by the Mlecchas, the Thugs, etc.

[8] devi prapannartihare sive tvam vanimanobuddhibhir aprameya
yato syato naiva hi kascid isah stotum svasabdair bhavatim kadacit.
brahmasvarupe jagadambike lam dayamayim tvam satatam namamah
sargasthitipratyavaharakaryam bhavadvilsasya ta rangamatram
kartum ksanenakhilamasyalam tvam namo stvataste khilasaktirupe.
tvam nirgunakaravivarjitapi bahirgatapi tvam bhavarajyacca bahirgatapi
sarvendriya gocaratam gatapi tveka hi akhanda vibhur advayapi
svabhaktakalyana vivardhanaya dhrtva svarupam sagunam hitebhyah
nihsreyasam yacchasi bhavagamya tribhavarupe bhavatim namamah

[9] yam saivah samupasate siva iti brahmeti vedantinah
bauddhah buddha ity pramanapatavah karteti naiya yikah
arhannityatha jainasasanaratah karmeti mimamsakah
soyam vai vidadhatu vanchitaphalam trailokyantho harih.

[10] Haristuti, 18

[11] Gover, The Folksongs of Southern India (1871), p.165.

[12] Needham, Science, Religion and Reality (1926), pp.334-5

[13] Cp.Spinoza: “ Religion is universal to the human race; wherever-justice and charity have the force of law and ordinance, there is God’s kingdom.”

[14] The Golden Bough, abridged edition (1922), p. 56.

[15] Part I, p. 362.

[16] The People of India (1915).

[17] Sutta Nipata 782; see also Anguttara Nikaya, iii. 57. I, where Buddha encourages gifts by Buddhists to non-Buddhists as well. He admits the right of non Buddhists to heaven. In the Majjhima Nikaya (i. p. 483) he mentions that a particular Ajivaka gained heaven by virtue of his being a believer in Karma. Buddha held in high respect the Brahmins who led the truly moral life.  

[18] The twelfth Rock Edict.

[19] Cp.Dean Inge: “The centre of gravity has shifted from authority to experience … The fundamental principles of mystical religion are now very widely accepted, and are, especially with educated people, avowedly the main ground of belief. ” The Platonic Tradition in English Religious Thought (1926), pp, 113-15.

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The oppositional thinking of Charvaka and the Buddha

About 2,600 years ago, Charvaka is said to have founded what is called the Charvaka (or lokayata) school. Its entire literature of this school has since been lost, perhaps destroyed by those who found these ideas too hard to digest. All we have left are a few unflattering references to his alleged views in ancient Hindu and Buddhist literature. These references may have exaggerated the ‘case’ against him, but importantly for our purpose, they indicate robust philosophical discourse in ancient Indian. Without any parallel, India’s philosophical prowess (if that’s the right word for it) during this period was at least on par with, if not greater than the thought in ancient Greece. In Hiriyanna’s opinion, ‘[t]he chief importance of the [Charvaka] system for us lies in the evidence it affords of the many-sidedness of philosophic activity in India in ancient times and of the prevalence of a great deal of liberty of thought as well as of freedom of expression[1]

But there is more to Charvaka than liberty of thought. Ancient Hindu and Buddhist texts seem to suggest that Charvaka disbelieved in the analytical mind, i.e. reason, believing instead that we perceive reality only with our senses. It would appear to me, though, that such representation of Chavaka’s views is not just deficient, but probably inaccurate, for even to come to such a view, one would need some form of reason. Charvaka also apparently rejected supernatural or transcendental phenomenon, arguing that no evidence of such things reaches us through our senses. He denied the soul or atman, and hence life after death. These conclusions were in stark contrast to the dominant discourse of the day in which not only sense perception (pratyksha) but even inference (anumana) and verbal testimony (sabda) were considered valid methods to discover knowledge.[2] Apart from Charvaka, many others questioned the status quo. Ajit Kesakambala, Makkhali Gosala, Pakudha Kacchayana and Purana Kassapa were among the thinkers so mentioned in the Buddhist text Digha Niyaka.[3] The agnostics (Ajnanavada) formed another clearly rebellious branch of thought. India was therefore a bubbling cauldron of philosophical thought, the distinct leader in free thinking. In its various schools of philosophy were found the kinds of revolutionary thoughts that the world would next hear about only in 19th century.
I believe that Western writers have grossly under-reported on the direct influence of Indian philosophy on modern Western thought. For instance, W.T. Stace[4] wrote that Indian philosophy didn’t arise from ‘pure thought’ and was ‘poetic rather than scientific’. Mel Thompson notes that Heraclitus’s views were ‘radical … in the 6th century BCE, and … interestingly parallel to the metaphysics being developed by the Buddha in Northern India at about the same time.’[5] But Thompson did not pause to ask why the astonishing advances in India, which clearly precede Greek thought, presumably had no direct bearing on Greek thought despite extensive trade and communication. Basnagoda Rahula, in a recent American doctoral dissertation has extensively referenced ancient literature to establish that it was Indian scepticism that travelled to Greece through Persia, and led to the concept of asking questioning which, then, led to the emergence of Socrates.[6] Socrates is thus a progeny of Indian thought, and India must today learn to value the thought of one of its best students.
While most of these innovative Indian philosophers were unable to attract a mass following, they did set the scene for the world’s most revolutionary – indeed, atheistic – ‘religions’: Jainism (by Mahavira, 599-527 BC) and Buddhism (by Gautama Buddha, 563-483 BC). These are the world’s predominant non-theistic ‘religions’ even today.[7]Buddhism expanded rapidly to become a major intellectual (and spiritual) force in the world. These religions are revolutionary in many ways. For instance, both the Buddhists and Jains dispute many of the conclusions and recommendations of the Vedas. The Buddha asked people not to accept something merely because he (or anyone else) said so. He insisted that people think for themselves and internalise the truth. The guru – even the Vedas – must be fully questioned. The truth must be experienced and understood directly by each of us. A paean to individualism, a gong for human self-respect. Before forming this extremely modern view, the Buddha had been a student of many gurus, all of whom, he found, had not arrived at what they believed was the truth themselves, but were parroting what they had been told. And thus he gave perhaps the greatest sermon ever. To the people of Kalama he spoke:
Do not believe something just because it has been passed along and retold for many generations. Do not believe something merely because it has become a traditional practice. Do not believe something simply because it is well-known everywhere. Do not believe something just because it is cited in a text. Do not believe something solely on the grounds of logical reasoning. Do not believe something merely because it accords with your philosophy. Do not believe something because it appeals to ‘common sense’. Do not believe something just because you like the idea. Do not believe something because the speaker seems trustworthy. Do not believe something thinking, ‘This is what our teacher says’.[8]
Each time I read this I am startled at the modernity of his message. There is, in the Buddha, an extremely strong flavour of independent thinking and many elements of critical thinking. Buddhism asserts that ‘one may attain salvation and a high degree of enlightenment by one’s own efforts, without necessarily depending on the teachings of the Buddha himself.’[9] One can, however, argue that Buddha did not take his message to its logical conclusion, for he did end up teaching specific things such as the ‘eight fold path’. In other ways, as well, his teachings are often prescriptive. It can therefore be argued that the greatest teacher is he one who teaches us how to think – and then stops. In that sense Socrates was a greater teacher. As for me, I do tend to ‘teach’ the precise applications of the principles of freedom in relation to public policy, in addition to recommending the general principles of thinking. I do, however, always suggest that my views be considered only as one among many. What I say (or write) must be critically analysed and over-ruled where I am found to be wrong (on the basis of evidence), or where explanations exist.
India, much to its subsequent misfortune, rejected ‘the Buddhist substitution of reason in place of Vedic authority’[10], just as the Greeks rejected Socrates and went downhill. Indeed, the Buddhism that survives today does not display any independence and vigour, either, having become mired in mindless mysticism. The good thing is that by contesting these ideas (intellectually, not physically) Hinduism did learn to tolerate dissent, something rarely found in other religions. Hinduism not only became inclusive, it actively accepted alternate views.
[This is an extract from my draft manuscript, Discovery of Freedom. Please download the manuscript and send me your comments]

[1] Hiriyanna, M., Outlines of Indian Philosophy, Bombay:George Allen and Unwin (India) Ltd., 1932 [1976], p.188.

[2] Hiriyanna, M., Outlines of Indian Philosophy, Bombay:George Allen and Unwin (India) Ltd., 1932 [1976], p.177, 189.

[3] Mishra, Pankaj, An End to Suffering. London: Picador, 2004 [2005 paperback], p.107.

[4] In his book, A Critical History of Greek Philosophy by MacMillan,1965, p.15.

[5] Thompson, Mel, Teach Yourself Philosophy, 2003, London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., p.24.

[6] Rahula, Basnagoda, The Untold Story about Greek Rational Thought: Buddhist and Other Indian Rationalist Influences on Sophist Rhetoric, PhD dissertation, December 2000, Texas Technical University.

[7] See Jayatilleke, K.N., The Message of the Buddha, London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1975, p.104-116 who shows that the Buddhist approach to God is not as simple as classifying it as an atheistic or theistic religion. I will not attempt to many complexities of Buddhist philosophy here.

[8] Kālāma Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya, Vol 1, 188-193 – []

[9] Jayatilleke, K.N., The Message of the Buddha, London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1975, p.15.

[10] Sarma, D.S., Hinduism through the Ages, 1961        , Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, p.14.

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Raja Rammohun Roy’s appeal to Hindus to abjure all forms of idolatory

In this section extracted from The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy (from sections of p.92-103) he appeals to Hindus to abjure idolatory. Accordingly, in the famous Trust Deed of the Brahmo Samaj he laid down that "no graven image, statue or sculpture, carving, painting, picture, portrait or the likeness of anything shall be admitted within the said building".

He warned against showing disrespect towards such idols, though. In that trust deed he noted, "that no object, animate or inanimate that has been or is or shall hereafter become or be recognised as an object of worship by any man or set of men, shall be reviled or slightingly or contemptuously spoken of or alluded to." This approach is a reflection of a tolerant Hinduism – that permits people to undertake religion in the manner they deem fit. 


My constant reflections on the inconvenient, or rather injurious rites, introduced by the peculiar practice of Hindoo idolatry, which more than any other Pagan worship, destroys the texture of society, together with compassion for my countrymen, have compelled me to use every possible effort to awaken them from their dream of error: and by making them acquainted with their Scriptures, enable them to contemplate with true devotion the unity and omnipresence of Nature’s God. 

By taking the path which conscience and sincerity direct, I, born a Brahmin, have exposed myself to the comphinings and reproaches, even of some of my relations, whose prejudices are strong, and whose temporal advantage depends upon the present system. But these, however accumulated, I can tranquilly bear; trusting that a day will arrive when my humble endeavours will be viewed with justice, perhaps acknowledged with gratitude. At any rate, whatever men may say, I cannot be deprived of this consolation: my motives are acceptable to that Being who beholds in secret and compensates openly!  

Some Europeans, endued with high principles of liberality, but not acquainted with the ritual part of Hindoo idolatry are disposed to palliate it by an interpretation which, though plausible, is by no means well founded. They are willing to imagine that the idols which the Hindoos worship are not viewed by them in the light of Gods or as real personifications of the divine attributes but merely as instruments for raising their minds to the contemplation of those attributes, which are respectively represented by different figures. I have frequently had occasion to remark, that many Hindoos also who are conversant with the English language, finding this interpretation a more plausible apology for idolatry than any with which they are furnished by their own guides, do not fail to avail themselves of it, though in repugnance both to their faith and to their practice. The declarations of this description of Hindoos naturally tend to confirm the original idea of such Europeans, who from the extreme absurdity of pure unqualified idolatry, deduce an argument against its existence. It appears to them impossible for men, even in the very last degree of intellectual darkness, to be so far misled as to consider a mere image of wood or of stone as a human being by much less as divine existence. With a view, therefore, to do away with any misconception of this nature which may have prevailed, I beg leave to submit the following considerations. 

Hindoos of the present age, with a very few exceptions, have not the least idea that it is to the attributes of the Supreme Being as figuratively represented by shapes corresponding to the nature of those attributes, they offer adoration and worship under the denomination of gods and goddesses. On the contrary, the slightest investigation will clearly satisfy every inquirer that it makes a material part of their system to hold as articles of faith all those particular circumstances which are essential to the belief in the independent existence of the object of their idolatry as deities clothed with divine power. 

Locality of habitation and a mode of existence analogous to their own views of earthly things are uniformly ascribed to each particular god. Thus the devotees of Siva, misconceiving the real spirit of the Scriptures, not only place an implicit credence in the separate existence of Siva, but even regard him as an omnipotent being, the greatest of all the divinities, who, as they say, inhabit the northern mountain of Kailas; and that he is accompanied by two wives and several children, and surrounded with numerous attendants. In like manner the followers of Vishnu, mistaking the allegorical representations of the Sastras for relations of real facts, believe him to be chief over all other gods, and that he resides with his wife and attendants on the summit of heavcn. 

Similar opinions are also held by the worshippers of Cali, in respect to that goddess. And in fact, the same observations are equally applicable to every class of Hindoo devotees in regard to their respective gods and goddesses. And so tenacious are those devotees in respect to the honour due to their chosen divinities that when they meet in such holy places as Haridwar, Pryag, Siva-Canchi, or Vishnu-Canchi in the Dekhan, the adjustment of the point of precedence not only occasions the warmest verbal altercations, but sometimes even blows and violence. Neither do they regard the images of these gods merely in the light of instruments for elevating the mind to the conception of those supposed being; they are simply in themselves made objects of worship. For whenever a Hindoo purchases an idol in the market, or constructs one with his own hands, or has one made under his own superintendence, it is his invariable practice to perform certain ceremonies, called Pran Pratishtha, or the endowment of animation, by which he believes that its nature is changed from that of the mere materials of which it is formed, and that it acquires not only life but supernatural powers. Shortly afterwards, if the idol be of the masculine gender, he marries it to a feminine one, with no less pomp and magnificence than he celebrates the nuptials of his own children. The mysterious process is now complete, and the god and goddess are esteemed the arbiters of his destiny, and continually receive his most ardent adoration. 

At the same time, the worshipper of images ascribes to them at once the opposite natures of human and of superhuman beings. In attention to their supposed wants as living beings, he is seen feeding, or pretending to feed them every morning and evening; and as in the hot season he is careful to fan them so in cold he is equally regardful of their comfort, covering them by day with warm clothing, and placing them at night in a snug bed. But superstition does not find a limit here: the acts and speeches of the idols, and their assumptions of various shapes and colours, are gravely related by the Brahmins, and with all the marks of veneration are firmly believed by their deluded followers.  

My reflections upon these solemn truths have been most painful for many years. I have never ceased to contemplate with the strongest feelings of regret, the obstinate adherence of my countrymen to their fatal system of idolatry, inducing, for the sake of propitiating their supposed Deities, the violation of every humane and social feeling. And this in various instances, but more especially in the dreadful acts of self-destruction and the immolation of the nearest relations, under the delusion of conforming to sacred religious rites. I have never ceased, I repeat,to contemplate these practices with feelings of regret, and to view in them the moral debasement of a race who, I cannot help thinking, are capable of better things, whose susceptibility, patience, and mildness of character, render them worthy of a better destiny. Under these impressions, therefore, I have been impelled to lay before them genuine translations of parts of their Scripture, which inculcates not only the enlightened worship of one God, but the purest principles of morality, accompanied with such notices as I deemed requisite to oppose the arguments employed by the Brahmins in defence of their beloved system. Most earnestly do I pray that the whole may, sooner or later, prove efficient in producing on the minds of Hindoos in general, conviction of the rationality of believing in and adoring the Supreme Being only; together with a complete perception and practice of that grand and comprehensive moral principle – Do unto others as ye would be done by. 

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